Two Thoughts on Autism Spectrum Disorders: ADHD Is Low in France & It’s Not All About Genetics

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I recently ran across two articles that deal with autism spectrum disorders. Here they are:

3 Things We Can Learn From French Parents—Whose Kids Rarely Have ADHD | PJ Media.

by Brianna Sharbaugh

Autism is not just a disorder of the brain, mouse study suggests

ScienceDaily June 9th, 2016

The first article on ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder) talks about how in the US about 9% of kids receive a diagnosis of ADHD whereas in France the rate is 0.5%. The article (which pulls from work by family therapist Marilyn Wedge) cites three main reasons for this huge discrepancy:

  1. Consider outside influences, that is to say, the entire family system, not just the individual child. As Sharbaugh puts it, “Look beyond just what today’s issue is. Is your child going through stress at home, or are there unresolved family issues that may be impacting him?” Apparently French parents tend to take a family systems approach to raising their kids. Family systems theory was popular here in the US back in the 1970s and early 1980s but fell from grace as the self-esteem movement took hold.
  2. Consistency is key. Sharbaugh writes, “Wedge describes [French parent’s] commitment to structuring a child’s day, setting limits, and using the word ‘no’ as staples in French homes.”
  3. Teach your kids more than behavior modification. Sharbaugh tells us that “Dr. Wedge praises the approach of looking to root causes before labeling and medicating,” and believes that “American parents could learn from this approach to childrearing.” Essentially, American parents, at the first sign of trouble, our programmed to get a diagnosis, start medicating, and seek out cognitive behavioral help. [1]

The second article talks about how there may be a body component to ASD (autism spectrum disorders, which would include ADHD). Citing work by neurologist David Ginty, the article points out that the prevailing assumption concerning ASD is that it is “solely a disease of the brain” (quoting Dr. Ginty). Dr. Ginty’s research with mice would suggest otherwise. It would seem that how we interact with the environment also plays a role in ASD. Dr. Ginty continues, “A key aspect of this work is that we’ve shown that a tactile, somatosensory dysfunction contributes to behavioral deficits [associated with ASD], something that hasn’t been shown before.” Anxiety and problems with social interactions are the two leading behavioral deficits associated with ASD. I hope lights are going off. Anxiety (i.e., problems with affect regulation) and problems with social interactions are also associated with insecure attachment patterns. [2] Carried to an extreme, children who are not touched, held or otherwise cared for are at risk of developing disorganized attachment patterns. I am here thinking of the children raised in the orphanages of Romania. For more on this topic see the work of attachment researcher Charles H. Zeanah.

Allow me to end by quoting Lauren Orefice, who works with Dr. Ginty. Orefice sounds very much like an attachment researcher as she brings in patterns of navigating the world: “The sense of touch is important for mediating our interactions with the environment, and for how we navigate the world around us. An abnormal sense of touch is only one aspect of ASD, and while we don’t claim this explains all the pathologies seen in people, defects in touch processing may help to explain some of the behaviors observed in patients with ASD.”

As a side note, I’m reminded of a quote attachment researcher Allan Schore made to a workshop audience concerning the “nature versus nurture” debate. Dr. Schore effectively said that when it comes to attachment, “it’s 100% genetics and 100% environment.” Genetics plays a large role in creating structure (like my five foot eleven height), but it is motivational systems like attachment that play large roles in how structure interacts with the environment. And, yes, there are feedback loops between the two. Brain studies tend to downplay structure in interaction with the environment. This makes sense considering that it is very hard for a person to interact with his/her environment laying in an MRI (magnetic resonance imagery) machine. This will of course change once we have wearable MRI machines. Trust me, it will happen. Rather than fitbit, we’ll have captap.


[1] A diagnosis of ADHD usually opens doors to additional educational, psychological and medical resources.

[2] I’d be remiss if I did not point out that persons with autism spectrum disorders often are coded as being securely attached as measured by the AAI (adult attachment interview). Paraphrasing Lauren Orefice from above, attachment functioning is not the whole story when it comes to ASD.